Sunday, 29 April 2007

View from the Midlands

When I'm wondering how to make a difference in my own area it helps to find out how others have dealt with a similar problem.

Today I returned to Birmingham Northfield where I stood as the parliamentary candidate two years ago. In Longbridge the Rover Factory has been almost entirely levelled. Acre after acre of what was once the centre of the British car industry lies flattened. The 6,000 ex Rover workers mostly have "jobs" but many are temporary, part-time or low skilled. Loan sharks hover, and of the £175 million that the government promised for "re training and re-generation" £50 million never arrived.

However, where people live I can see a real difference. Streets are cleaner, graffiti has disappeared, many estates have been tidied up. The council now under Conservative leadership for 3 years has given local councillors power over local cleanliness, machinery and manpower. Its better. I learnt from them.

I went out canvassing with Cllr Keith Barton and his wife (since last year Cllr Sue) and then with Cllr Andrian Delaney as well as Keeley Rodgers their new Parliamentary candidate. The Labour vote appears to be melting but there are lots of smaller parties, including the BNP, who are picking up votes as well as the Conservatives. The stay at home vote say they will be large too.

Then I went out Maggie Throup canvassing in Solihul. She had her team had been joined by election observerers from Uganda to learn about local democracy in the UK. We can all learn a bit from others.

Help thy Neighbours

One of the things I have discovered about local government is that sometimes one needs help and support from neighbours to get things done. Having had a good few days out and about in my own patch I popped over to the next door ward in the next door council with Hugo Swire MP, the shadow minister for culture, media and sport.

Local businessmen have started to build what is proposed to be the main training and receiving centre for all the horse related sports for the 2012 Olympics. We met the worlds leading horse vet who has started building the world's largest horse hospital. The project is expected to be entirely funded through local businesses without any tax payers money. Its on the outskirts of Newmarket, already the centre of world racing and they see the need for facilities for the rest of the 21 Century.

The local entrepreneur behind the candidate is Larry Le-Ggatt, he's been working with two local councils and realised the importance of local government in getting projects moving - he has now agreed to be one of the Conservative party candidates for Thursdays elections. I wish him and the project well and was behind the camera for this shot!

Friday, 27 April 2007

Financially concerned

I wrote yesterday that I was financially concerned.... many are.

Here are my two concerns right now... this week
1. Mortgage rates have gone up.
2. $2 to the £.......... When this last happened 15 years ago everyone wrote about the impact British Exports, now all we hear is how cheaply we can go the the US and shop, shop shop. Is this because there aren't any British Exports left? It says a lot about how much our society and economy have changed. As an economics graduate I am concerned about the sustainability.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Why Punch and Judy politics are wrong

Today I had a council meeting.

We have set ourselves a target of August to find a partner for running the country park - there are thousands of signatures on a petition to save the park - I've had letters from hundreds of people - they care.

The words of the original motion say we have to find a "likely" solution by then... everyone who has ever bought or sold a house knows that negotations take a long time. The council is in the middle of loads of discussions with people from the National Trust right down to local trusts. I'm learning lots. We wont have a signed document by August, I believe we will have a likely solution.

But today the opposition stir. They say we are behind timetable and refuse to hear the original motion. That is misleading the public. I am cross.

How is the week going?

Well... it was always going to be a busy week
Locally - making progess on saving the park and the killer road - survey I set up with our MP is now completed this should help us cut through bureaucracy. We had a good meeting to plan next steps tonight.
Nationally - I've been pleased to help our doctors and health staff many have contacted me to say thanks - shocked to hear of huge breaches in confidential information. Pleased that press are now concerned about Cdif. I am.
Internationally have been asked to join a trip of volunteers to Rwanda later in the year. More on this later.
Financially concerned
Politically - good feeling locally about next week - but a week is a long time.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

I could have made toast on the fumes rising from the doctors' heads

Today I went with my local doctors to join other doctors and their families from all across the country in a mass lobby of parliament - each constituency sent representatives to individually meet their MPs to discuss the future of medical training. As a doctors wife I joined senior consultants and "junior" doctors to talk to my MP.

Three key points
* Not enough training posts. The reduction in training posts for doctors is squeezing out thousands of doctors - 32,000 doctors applied for 20,000 jobs the process has been a fiasco and many of our best younger doctors are set to leave the country
* Dumbing down in training. By shortening training years and embrassing the European Working Time Directive doctors will be less well trained in the future. Today an orthopaedic surgeon would receive 22,000 hours of training before becoming a consultant, in the future it will be just 6,000 hours - imagine hearing that pilots can do a 1/3 less accompanied flights before going "solo". Whose plane would you like to be on? and whose operating table? If the doctors of tomorrow are not as well trained as my husband and his friends were, we will have worse care in our hospitals in the future.
* Patient safety on change over day. If the process goes ahead as planned 22,000 doctors will change jobs on 1st August this year. That is every junior doctor in training in every hospital in the country. Many doctors will not even know where the reception is in their new hospital let alone the x ray department. Do not be sick in August. I am taking my children to Ireland for a couple of weeks.

As of right now the junior doctors don't have jobs. They don't know where they might be moving to and tens of thousands of interviews are still to be held. It is a fiasco. The doctors are mounting a legal challenge and there are rumours of massive compensation claims.

Just 6 weeks ago it was hard to find doctors prepared to whistle blow - today they were all prepared to do so very publicly.

Then I listened to the Health Debate. The public gallery was packed with doctors in theatre scrubs and white coats. As a patient I am delighted that doctors are mostly intelligent and well educated. They sat and listened.

Case after case of doctors in crisis from all over the UK was demonstrated by Conservative, Lib Dem and even Labour MPs. Peter Bottomley (husband of the former Health Minister) said gently "does the Prime minister intend to use a similar selection process when choosing his front bench health team?". The public gallery erupted into spontaneous applause. A few minutes later we were told that if there was another squeak from the gallery we would all be marched out.

Next Patricia Hewitt stood up and tried to tell the chamber how fantastic the new process was going to be, how safe our patients were going to be. I could have made toast on the fumes coming out of the doctors' heads - but they were gagged. Beside me, in front of me, behind me doctors from all over the UK got up and walked out. "I can't listen to this woman anymore" they whispered. This from doctors whom we as patients count on to be good listeners. So much for democracy.

p.s. I've just got home - after going on 18 Doughty Street and recounting the day. The program is watched by 1-2,000 people every night, mostly politicians. I hope I am helping to get the message across.

Monday, 23 April 2007

What does a candidate do?

One of my friends suggested this weekend that I should post my diary on the web so that you can read what a candidate/councillor does in a week. This is the busy season for local elections so here goes ....

am - canvassing for local elections in my own ward
pm - meeting with Council cabinet on various issues including planning policy
evening - Milton Parish council meeting re saving the park

am going to join the doctors in Westminster for the mass lobby of parliament.
pm chance to catch up with some former work colleagues to keep eye on what is happening in business world
evening - will appear on 18 Doughty Street TV

am canvassing in target ward for local elections
pm meeting with council leader and deputy re future of the park
evening - canvassing for local elections

Full council meeting ... must make sure Ive read all the papers!
evening - meeting with local residents re our killer road - hope to get to choir practice too (only 3 weeks until our concert)

am campaigning for local elections target ward
lunchtime - chess club in local school .... (voluntary work - its good for their maths)
afternoon - go to my daughters school for poetry competition finals
evening - canvassing for local elections

all day - canvassing for local elections in my own ward

all day - returning to Birmingham where I stood in the last general election to catch up with views there and help canvas for local elections.

I enjoy canvassing - its is a time to really take stock and listen to what people are saying. I also believe it is important to go and help other councils / candidates as no single ward/district/borough/constituency is an island to themselves. To make changes, even on local issues, one often needs help and inspiration from other areas.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Update from a days campaigning.

I've been knocking on doors in Ely today. Four years ago there was only one Conservative councillor in East Cambridgeshire. The Lib Dems had doubled the council tax and were not popular. 15 new Conservatives were elected - not enough for control - but working together with independents they have kept the council tax rises to below 2.5%, the lowest in all the county. I would love to see a Conservative controlled council given a chance to put some decent policies through without constant backbiting from the LDs.

Last month I took David Cameron to Ely hospital. This month Theresa May visited. The Lib Dems say they care about local government and are (negative) campaigning hard but there's no sight of Ming.

Friday, 20 April 2007

10,000 doctors set to go

The latest rumour going round the medical world about the fiasco on junior doctors training is that up to 10,000 of them will not be given jobs when all around the country the doctors shuffle up their roles this August. 10,000 is a very frightening number - the majority of these are trained at the tax payers expense. We desperately need to keep our best doctors in our country and not train for a mass exodus. I've lived through medical training twice through my sister and husband - it takes years to get these skills. I don't want them thrown away.

I will be joining doctors on a mass lobby to parliament next week.

p.s. the Guardian is now reporting that the latest Hewett plan is cooking up is to send thousands of our doctors off to do voluntary service overseas. Who is going to be working in our hospitals?

Next generation Conservatives

I was delighted to get this news today. Cambridgeshire county council are set to elect Shona Johnstone as their youngest ever leader. I've been working with Shona for the past year on issues for children and young people. In my definitions of Councillors Shona is up there as a Doer. She has been selected by her Conservative colleagues without any all women shortlists or other "positive discrimination" simply because they think she is the right person to do the job today - I wish her the very, very best for her new job.

Local elections

I thought you would like to see this message about how seriously the other parties are taking elections in Cambridgeshire.

"The Labour candidate here was aked to sign up without being told what for, she the phoned the council and asked what she had been nominated for. She lives the other side of Cambridge is 82, has no transport and isn't interested in our village!!! They must be desperate as I would have thought this would have been a labour target seat. Any way, unfortunately for me, she got a taxi to the Council and withdrew, so it's just me and the LD woman who stood before, but not many know. Her leaflet was the worst the office have seen - It says she edited it herself but she even spelt her name wrong! There's absolutely no contact details either for her or the LD's and nothing about the village. She says she will fight for a fairer assesment of Council tax and for a plastic recycling bin the the village - we are only a short distance for the Tesco's one anyway!!"


Immigration, Immigration, Immigration

I've been canvassing this morning for local elections in Haverhill in Suffolk. The response to the Conservatives has yet again been very positive. But one issue kept coming up on the doorstep again and again and again. This is a nice area - look at the picture. People see rising taxes, stretched services and lack of houses that they can afford to live in. They want someone to blame so they blame immigrants. With the economy dipping and purse strings getting tight this tension may escalate. "We are an island - we can't push the walls out" said one person.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

What is a local council all about?

Local election time again and Ive now been a local councillor and cabinet member for nearly a year. What is it all about?

We had a long meeting this morning discussing our "community development strategy".

Community development is a knotty issue... it covers sports, arts, museums (the fun bit) and then crime, anti-social behaviour, and travellers. When you get it right nobody really notices but when there is a complaint boy do you hear it hard.

My experience is Councillors fit into four sects

The Smilers sit at meetings and never give a view. The Whingers sit at the meetings and don't give a view and then bitch about it afterwards. The Hacks - sit there and just object to anything someone on the other side says. The Doers - they give views, they often put peoples backs up by asking questions but they do make a difference and get projects going that help their local community.

So really being a local councillor is all about what you put into it. Please promise me that if you are elected this May you will try to be a Doer... from whatever political party you represent.

p.s. Oh sorry - there is also the Uninformed .... they didn't read the brief but turned up and asked questions wasting time... there are one or too other groups I could mention but I could get in trouble.

p.p.s I admit that whilst I've been learning perhaps I have shown examples of all types myself it does take time to find ones feet.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

I met a Labour voter tonight

At least he said he had always been a life long Labour voter .... errr... he paused... then he said "but it all depends on the candidates really". So I sent our candidate along for a chat. He's now found the face saving excuse he wanted and will be voting for us. Shame really. I would love to find someone on a doorstep who could tell me why Labour is so great for them.

Affordable Housing

It is amazing how fast things can move on once bureaucracy is removed. Our village has spent 3 years in the planning and negotiation phase of our latest affordable housing project yet in just a few months the houses themselves are taking shape. These 18 houses will be for local people who are simply priced out of the property market.

My friend Tina has raised 3 children under four in a tiny two up two down council house in the village. They are getting bigger now. She works her socks off every hour the children are in pre-school, she works nights and has even tried to set up her own business from the over-crowded living room. She is always helping others. Her husband also works incredibly hard - but they believe they will never afford their own home. Last year at election time Tina came to me and asked for a Conservative Poster for their doorstep - "Conservatives have always helped people like me" she said. Well I hope that one of these new homes will help her.

I popped down to see them this week with my co-councillor Richard Barrett. The foundations are already laid and the walls go up this week.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007


News last night of the dreadful murder of 33 students in Virginia. I went to a debate on Gun Crime earlier this year with senior police officers, criminal lawyers and politicans. Some of the interesting issues raised were:

Glorification of guns and crime must take part of the blame - through music, movies etc. The "I should not be a grass" attitude makes policing harder.

The increase in theatres of war has brought different weapons to our country. We need to focus on where guns are coming from.

Drugs related gun crime means not just the big guys but the smaller dealers too.

Education is vital - too many young people (boys especially) are excluded from school without basic reading and writing skills - leading to deprivation and lack of hope of a non-criminal life.

Sentencing was considered too lenient and there was a call for removing mandatory sentencing.

Above all there was a call for more policing of our streets.

I would not like to have the USA's gun laws - but we need to make sure that ours are enforced.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

On a Campaign Trail

"I think I fell asleep and woke up in July" said one resident enjoying his garden on this glorious April weekend. This time last year it was snowing but today its been in the 20s. I am very lucky to represent a beautiful group of 8 villages as a local councillor - it is a marginal Con / Lib Dem ward and last year I unseated the sitting Lib Dem of 10 years standing. This year my co-Conservative Richard Barrett is up for election and over the weekend we have been out and about in all 8 villages.

The reception has been as stunning as the weather. There are issues but people can see that we are working hard to solve them. House prices have rocketed and affordable housing for young local people is a real problem. We are in the process of building 18 homes in one of the villages which will make a real difference - our ambition is that the new 8,000 plus home town of Northstowe should include 50% affordable housing.

Our killer road remains a big concern. We met up with Jim Paice MP on the road and discussed the ludicrously slow bureaucratic process in funding improvements. He is to meet the Chief Constable this month to discuss lowering the speed limit and better policing. I will be meeting the Highways team as well.

Rubbish is also an issue. On the whole our villages are well kept but why do people flytip? Last week we came across 3 fridges, a TV and numerous other bits of junk in one lane - today another fridge in the middle of a field. Apart from anything else clearing rubbish is expensive and a waste of all our money.

In the fields rape is in flower. Bio-diesel from rape is being treated more seriously and this will hopefully help our need for sustainable energy. One voter told me he had been to listen to Miliband speak on climate change last week - "Poorly informed and lightweight" was his impression.

Planning always has controversies. In-fill building keeps cropping up. Its the same old story of bungalows being ripped down and replaced with 2 or 3 huge houses. More people - no more infrastructure.

Finally anti-social behaviour. Its not just young people you know. The ward is 15 miles from side to side and across the whole stretch ancient green lanes have been torn apart by gangs of 4x4 off-roaders. In the hot weather ruts have become walls and are so deep they become impassable to walkers, cyclist or horse riders. We are trialing a suspension order in one part and hope that this might help.

What are the local issues in your area?

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Time, travel and the centre of the world

It is still the school holidays and I've been talking about time so a mum friend and I though it seemed appropriate to bung all the children in the car and visit the worlds centre of time - the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Here we are on the meridian that defines the centre of time keeping.

A few observations from the day....

Greenwich was the centre of the British Navy when it lead the world - the Navy has been cut back and cut back and is unable to defend British interests.

When Sir Christopher Wren was tasked with building the Royal Observatory he was given a budget of only £500. He borrowed materials and recycled. He ran over budget by £20. Despite the derisory budget the Observatory has been a tourists' venue for 300 years and puts into perspective the proposed cost overruns predicted for London's Olympics that our government seems to think we will all accept.

Those who deplore large people carrier cars forget that when the car is full it is a highly efficient way of transporting a large number children for a day out!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Getting the vote up

For the first time in recent years the Labour Party has descended on local elections here in South Cambridgeshire and are fielding candidates in 18 of 19 seats. Last year they put up candidates in less than half (8 of 20 seats). Three years ago (2004) when the council was "all out" they didn't even manage a third (11/34 wards).

By going into areas they have never even fielded a candidate before do they think they can spin that their share of the vote is going up?

Even with all these extra candidates I believe their votes will go down.... but they might take some from the Libs. The Conservatives are, of course, represented in every seat.

p.s in Cambridge City Labour field 15 for 15 in Huntingdon 17 for 19 but in in East Cambs Labour field only 4 candidates for 39 seats. More will follow.

Museum - the past and the future

Sometimes being a councillor is great fun. Yesterday I was asked to open the new shop and office at the Farmland Museum at Denny Abbey near Cambridge. The Abbey dates back to the 12th century and is a showcase of different architecture through nearly a whole millenium.

In the museum we saw demonstrations of farming, cheesemaking, eel fishing, basket making and working steam engines. My middle one particularly enjoyed milking the "cow"!

Sadly like many places this museum struggles for funds. Raising money for capital projects or "improvements" is often possible with many grants available - but it is not so easy to get funds for on going "revenue" spending, for example salaries - that is needed just to keep the place going day to day. The educational officer has this year taught over 3,000 children about their history and the countryside - but funding for his post is about to come to an end. School trips are put off because of "risk assesment" paperwork and the cost of transport. Many museums rely on income from those "pocket money" goods in the shop to keep them alive - not very sustainable.

If we want to educate our future population about their heritage - and their countryside we must try to preserve the present.

Taking time to see what is happening

On Easter day I joined the congregation at one of the 3 English Churches in Paris.

We were told the story of the two groups of ordinands who were taken to a crowded hospital. They were each given a message and told to relay it to a person at the end of a long corridor. Those in the second group were also told to hurry.

Half way down the corridor was a person clearly in need of help.

Every person in the first group stopped and helped the person along the way.

Every person in the second group failed to even notice the person in need of help.
They were in a hurry.

Today many of us are in a hurry all the time - if we are to help those in need we all must take time to notice them.